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February 14, 2009

Which way to the Acropolis? Mooch your wifi? And... help us book a hotel?

February 14. Day 229.

About 300 feet from the entrance to the Acropolis, high above the rest of the city, is a hut. In this hut, or rather house, to be fair, since to its inhabitant the tiny white cube it is surely a proud and noble dwelling, lives an old man. He looks about as old as Achilles and twice as tough.

I stumbled into his house out of desperation, since for an hour Mr. A and I were trying to find the Acropolis and failing. It wasn't really a problem, since the walk itself along the deserted back alleys of the Plaka was lovely, but we did want to see the Acropolis eventually...

The massive temple was right there, right there, just over the fence, but how could we get inside? Where was the gate? Where were signs, a plaque, any directions?

Just as the path started heading back downhill, I heard a blaring television and followed the sound toward an open window and a curtain billowing in the breeze. I sprinted over, stepped inside through the open door, noticed a television on a small table with a dark flowered table cloth, and this hobbled man with fierce eyes.

"Signomi," I started. Excuse me. "We are looking for the Acropolis."

He nodded, as if he'd been expecting us since 1950. Or 1950 BC.

"Back. See church left? Down. See hill? Right. Up. Acropolis!" He pointed left and right, accordingly.

"I see -- go back, take a left at the church, then turn right up the next hill. Right?"

"Back. See church left? Down. See hill? Right. Up. Acropolis!" he repeated, doing the exact same dance.

"Thank you!"

It was exactly as he explained, up a hill, after a little church... I wonder if that was the only line of English he spoke. I wonder if the Athenian tourist board taught it to him, or if he decided to learn of his own good will. I wonder if he was as old as he looked, or merely weathered by the weather, since that sun beats down like nowhere else on the Acropolis at noon... I wondered if the gods thanked him for his service, sending tourists their way, or cursed him...

Either way, I am grateful for his guidance, and would wish him another millennium guarding those gates, if he so desires.

Gained I: Sneak peek of a Plaka-dweller's house. And, more directions!

That evening we took off for Aegina, an island about an hour from Athens. I'd heard it's easy to find a hotel room or guest house on the islands during winter. Boy, was I wrong... of course the island had hundreds of empty rooms, but they were all closed for the season. For an hour, Mr. A and I set up camp in front of a hotel and used their password protected wifi (Asking II) to look for a room. Finally we found one, reserved it online, and walked over. It was a block away.

When we got there, however, the innkeeper told us she was all booked, and the reservation website doesn't work.

"When did you reserve?" she inquired.

I realized I had to play it smart or risk sleeping on a bench that night.

"Today," I whined. "This is such a disappointment! Your hotel is so nice, we came all the way from Athens sure we had a place to stay, and now we don't? This is a disaster! What will we do? Woe is me!! Can you please help us?"

"Oh no! I'm so sorry. The reservations service we use is terrible. Let me see what I can do to rectify this." She started making calls, talked to about five places until she found us an available room.

Gained III: Shelter. And an important lesson: Reserving a hotel room in advance can't hurt, but it brings no guarantees.

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